Saturday, 12 September 2015

The sun sets on another
holiday in Greece

Sunset on the beach in Platanes last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

The sun is setting on another wonderful holiday in Crete. I have spent the past week in Rethymnon, based in Julia Apartments, in Platanes. This was once a small country village on the edges of Rethymnon, but it has grown in recent decades, acquiring all the facilities and amenities of a resort.

In previous years when I have been in Rethymnon, I have stayed in the heart of the old walled Venetian city, but I have been surprised by the benefits of staying in Platanes.

I had walks on the long sandy beach at sunset in the evenings, watching the sun set beyond the Fortezza in Rethymnon, which is 5 km to the west, or I have gone into Rethymnon for strolls around the harbour at sunset.

I have been into the sea at Pavlos beach, swimming each day under blue skies in the blue waters of the Mediterranean, which are still warm at this time of the year.

The gardens at Julia Apartments, with its tall trees and lush growth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

There has been time for reading on the beach, or on the balcony overlooking the gardens in Julia Apartments, with its tall trees and lush growth.

There have been walks in the countryside, climbs into the mountains to visit Venetian villages, and time for prayer too, visiting the Monastery of Arkadi, which is just 17 km from Platanes, visiting the Cathedral and the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon and visiting the old churches of Maroulas.

But it has also been deeply spiritual to see at first hand the work of the Voluntary Welfare Clinic Rethymno from a storefront crèche in Kastrinogiannaki Street, providing medical care and help for people who have no medical insurance, whether they are Greeks, refugees or migrants.

There have been breakfasts on the balcony, with fresh fruit – especially the figs – and bread bought in the local supermarkets and the bakery downstairs, there have been wonderful meals in the local restaurants and tavernas, there has been time to stop and sip Greek coffees and double espressos in the cafés, and there was a wonderful dinner with a friend who went out of her way, laden with presents, all the way from Iraklion, to join us for dinner in the gardens at Julia Apartments.

I even had my haircut in the local hairdressers next door.

Evening closes in on Platanes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Platanes took me by surprise. I had expected a more brazen sort of resort, but in many ways it still retains the feel of a local village, and I found traditional Greek hospitality and interest in the visitor is found unfeignedly everywhere I went.

The square in the centre of the village is more a junction than a traditional Greek village square, but on all sides there are cafés with people sitting out watching life passing by on what was once the main road along the northern coast of Crete.

I noticed no late-night seedy nightclubs – they may be here, but I never noticed them, and I was not out of place for my age or generation. This is not a “young and lively” holiday destination, at least at this time of the year.

There is a Lidl supermarket behind Julia Apartments, just after the road under the new highway that runs between Rethymnon and Iraklion. I wondered whether they run Greek weeks, as they do in Ireland. No, perhaps they run Irish weeks.

The bells on the church of Aghios Nektarios in Tsesmes this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

As I strolled further up the hill late this morning, I was soon in the neighbouring village of Tsesmes, which I had passed through yesterday on my way to the hill-top Venetian village of Maroulas. In Tsesmes, there are grapes on the vines, olives waiting to be harvested on the trees, and gardens filled with trees and flowers or even some goats.

Here there is a village square where life must gather at other times but a sleepy Saturday at mid-day. There are village tavernas and cafés, side streets that lead on into hidden houses, and a village church that I had failed to find last Sunday morning despite eager searching.

The side streets in Tsesmes lead into rustic scenes and memories of village life (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

After an early afternoon coffee in Tsesmes, it was a few minutes back down to Platanes for a last walk on the beach, a late lunch in Vergina, and a farewell coffee at Julia Apartments.

I have never believed in the “trickle-down economy” that Thatcher and Reagan pretended would bring prosperity to everyone – after the rich got richer. But spending money locally, in locally-owned shops, supermarkets and businesses keeps money going around in this small Greek town at a time when Greek businesses are finding it difficult to keep going. And putting money into the economy means more local people are employed and more local produce is sold.

Figs on sale in a local supermarket in Platanes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I am told that the real blow to tourism in this part of Greece has come not from foreigners worried about the political climate in Greece but from many so Greeks not able to spend money on holidays this year. But foreign tourism boosts the balance of payments and contributes immensely to the Greek economy and to Greek employment figures.

Who knows what the future holds for Greece? It would have been difficult for most tourists to know that there is a crucial election here in just over a week’s time [20 September 2015], and it would have been impossible for them to know about the refugee crisis on other Greek islands, such as Lesvos, Kos and Rhodes.

Undoubtedly, there are difficult times ahead for everyone in Greece, no matter what results the election produces.

The bus is waiting outside to take me to Chania Airport and my Ryanair flight back to Dublin. But I hope to be back again next year.

Grapes on the vine between a taverna in Tsesmes and a house that is up for sale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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